La lecture en ligne est gratuite
Read Download

Share this publication

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Brand Blotters, by William MacLeod Raine This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at Title: Brand Blotters Author: William MacLeod Raine Illustrator: Clarence Rowe Release Date: December 7, 2008 [EBook #27436] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK BRAND BLOTTERS *** Produced by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at “WHO ARE YOU?” “WATER!” HE GASPED. Page 20. BRAND BLOTTERS BY WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE AUTHOR OF WYOMING, BUCKY O’CONNOR, MAVERICKS, A TEXAS RANGER, RIDGWAY OF MONTANA, E TC . ILLUSTRATIONS BY CLARENCE ROWE GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK Made in the United States of America Copyright, 1909, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT CO. Copyright, 1911, by S TREET & S MITH COPYRIGHT , 1912, BY G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY Brand Blotters TO FRANK N. SPINDLER In Memory of Certain Sunday Afternoon Tramps Long Ago, During Which We Solved the Problems of the Nation CONTENTS PART I MELISSY OF THE BAR DOUBLE G CHAPTER PAGE I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X A C ROSSED TRAIL BRAND BLOTTING AN ACCUSATION THE MAN WITH THE C HIHUAHUA H AT THE TENDERFOOT TAKES UP A C LAIM ”H ANDS U P” WATERING SHEEP THE BOONE-BELLAMY FEUD IS R ENEWED THE D ANGER LINE JACK GOES TO THE H EAD OF THE C LASS 11 18 35 49 61 75 98 109 121 141 XI XII XIII XIV A C ONVERSATION THE TENDERFOOT MAKES A PROPOSITION OLD ACQUAINTANCES C ONCERNING THE BOONE-BELLAMY-YARNELL FEUD 156 163 182 191 PART II Dead MAN’S CACHE CHAPTER PAGE I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X XI XII XIII XIV KIDNAPPED A C APTURE THE TABLES TURNED THE R EAL BUCKY AND THE FALSE A PHOTOGRAPH IN D EAD MAN’ S C ACHE “TRAPPED!” AN ESCAPE AND A C APTURE A BARGAIN THE PRICE SQUIRE LATIMER TAKES A H AND THE TAKING OF THE C ACHE MELISSY ENTERTAINS BLACK MACQUEEN C ASHES HIS C HECKS 199 209 217 231 243 255 266 276 286 301 306 322 334 340 PART I MELISSY OF THE BAR DOUBLE G 11 CHAPTER I A CROSSED TRAIL The tenderfoot rose from the ledge upon which he had been lying and stretched himself stiffly. The chill of the long night had set him shivering. His bones ached from the pressure of his body upon the rock where he had slept and waked and dozed again with troubled dreams. The sharpness of his hunger made him light-headed. Thirst tortured him. His throat was a lime-kiln, his tongue swollen till it filled his mouth. If the night had been bad, he knew the day would be a hundred times worse. Already a gray light was sifting into the hollow of the sky. The vague misty outlines of the mountains were growing sharper. Soon from a crotch of them would rise a red hot cannon ball to pour its heat into the parched desert. He was headed for the Sonora line, for the hills where he had heard a man might drop out of sight of the civilization that had once known him. There were reasons why he had started in a hurry, without a horse or food or a canteen, and these same reasons held good why he could not follow beaten tracks. All yesterday he had traveled without sighting a ranch or meeting a human being. But he knew he must get to water soon—if he were to reach it at all. A light breeze was stirring, and on it there was borne to him a faint rumble as of thunder. Instantly the man came to a rigid alertness. Thunder might mean rain, and rain would be salvation. But the sound did not die away. Instead, it deepened to a steady roar, growing every instant louder. His startled glance swept the cañon that drove like a sword cleft into the hills. Pouring down it, with the rush of a tidal wave, came a wall of cattle, a thousand backs tossing up and down as the swell of a troubled sea. Though he had never seen one before, the man on the lip of the gulch knew that he was watching a cattle stampede. Under the impact of the galloping hoofs the ground upon which he stood quaked. A cry diverted his attention. From the bed of the sandy wash a man had started up and was running for his life toward the cañon walls. Before he had taken half a dozen steps the avalanche was upon him, had cut him down, swept over him. The thud of the hoofs died away. Into the open desert the stampede had passed. A huddled mass lay motionless on the sand in the track of the avalanche. A long ragged breath whistled through the closed lips of the tenderfoot. He ran along the edge of the rock wall till he found a descent less sharp, lowered himself by means of jutting quartz and mesquit cropping out from the crevices, and so came through a little draw to the cañon. He dropped on a knee beside the sprawling, huddled figure. No second glance was needed to see that the man was dead. Life had been trampled out of him almost instantly and his features battered beyond any possible recognition. Unused to scenes of violence, the stranger stooping over him felt suddenly sick. It made him shudder to remember that if he could have found a way down in the darkness he, too, would have slept in the warm sand of the dry wash. If he had, the fate of this man would have been his. Under the doubled body was a canteen. The trembling fingers of the tenderfoot unscrewed the cork. Tipping the vessel, he drank avidly. One swallow, a second, then a few trickling drops. The canteen had been almost empty. Uncovering, he stood bareheaded before the inert body and spoke gently in the low, soft voice one instinctively uses in the presence of the dead. “Friend, I couldn’t save your life, but your water has saved mine, I reckon. Anyhow, it gives me another chance to fight for it. I wish I could do something 12 13 for you ... carry a message to your folks and tell them how it happened.” He dropped down again beside the dead man and rifled the pockets. In them he found two letters addressed in an illiterate hand to James Diller, Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. An idea flashed into his brain and for a moment held him motionless while he worked it out. Why not? This man was about his size, dressed much like him, and so mutilated that identification was impossible. From his own pocket he took a leather bill book and a monogrammed cigarcase. With a sharp stone he scarred the former. The metal case he crushed out of shape beneath the heel of his boot. Having first taken one twenty dollar yellowback from the well-padded book, he slipped it and the cigarcase into the inner coat pocket of the dead man. Irregularly in a dozen places he gashed with his knife the derby hat he was wearing, ripped the band half loose, dragged it in the dust, and jumped on it till the hat was flat as a pancake. Finally he kicked it into the sand a dozen yards away. “The cattle would get it tangled in their hoofs and drag it that far with them,” he surmised. The soft gray hat of the dead man he himself appropriated. Again he spoke to the lifeless body, lowering his voice to a murmur. “I reckon you wouldn’t grudge me this if you knew. I’m up against it. If I get out of these hills alive I’ll be lucky. But if I do—well, it won’t do you any harm to be mistaken for me, and it will accommodate me mightily. I hate to leave you here alone, but it’s what I’ve got to do to save myself.” He turned away and plodded up the dry creek bed. The sun was at the meridian when three heavily armed riders drew up at the mouth of the cañon. They fell into the restful, negligent postures of horsemen accustomed to take their ease in the saddle. “Do you figure maybe he’s working up to the headwaters of Dry Sandy?” one suggested. A squat, bandy-legged man with a face of tanned leather presently answered. “No, Tim, I expect not. The way I size him up Mr. Richard Bellamy wouldn’t know Dry Sandy from an irrigation ditch. Mr. R. B. hopes he’s hittin’ the high spots for Sonora, but he ain’t anyways sure. Right about now he’s ridin’ the grub line, unless he’s made a strike somewhere.” The third member of the party, a lean, wide-shouldered, sinewy youth, blue silk kerchief knotted loosely around his neck, broke in with a gesture that swept the sky. “Funny about all them buzzards. What are they doing here, sheriff?” The squat man opened his mouth to answer, but Tim took the word out of his mouth. “Look!” His arm had shot straight out toward the cañon. A coyote was disappearing on the lope. “Something lying there in the wash at the bend, Burke.” Sheriff Burke slid his rifle from its scabbard. “We’ll not take any chances, boys. Spread out far as you can. Tim, ride close to the left wall. You keep along the right one, Flatray. Me, I’ll take the center. That’s right.” 14 15 16 They rode forward cautiously. Once Flatray spoke. “By the tracks there has been a lot of cattle down here on the jump recently.” “That’s what,” Tim agreed. Flatray swung from his saddle and stooped over the body lying at the bend of the wash. “Crushed to death in a cattle stampede, looks like,” he called to the sheriff. “Search him, Jack,” the sheriff ordered. The young man gave an exclamation of surprise. He was standing with a cigarcase in one hand and a billbook in the other. “It’s the man we’re after—it’s Bellamy.” Burke left his horse and came forward. “How do you know?” “Initials on the cigarcase, R. B. Same monogram on the billbook.” The sheriff had stooped to pick up a battered hat as he moved toward the deputy. Now he showed the initials stamped on the sweat band. “R. B. here, too.” “Suit of gray clothes, derby hat, size and weight about medium. We’ll never know about the scar on the eyebrow, but I guess Mr. Bellamy is identified without that.” “Must have camped here last night and while he was asleep the cattle stampeded down the cañon,” Tim hazarded. “That guess is as good as any. They ce’tainly stomped the life out of him thorough. Anyhow, Bellamy has met up with his punishment. We’ll have to pack the body back to town, boys,” the sheriff told them. Half an hour later the party filed out to the creosote flats and struck across country toward Mesa. Flatray was riding pillion behind Tim. His own horse was being used as a pack saddle. 17 18 CHAPTER II BRAND BLOTTING The tenderfoot, slithering down a hillside of shale, caught at a greasewood bush and waited. The sound of a rifle shot had drifted across the ridge to him. Friend or foe, it made no difference to him now. He had reached the end of his tether, must get to water soon or give up the fight. No second shot broke the stillness. A swift zigzagged across the cattle trail he was following. Out of a blue sky the Arizona sun still beat down upon a land parched by æons of drought, a land still making its brave show of greenness against a dun background. Arrow straight the man made for the hill crest. Weak as a starved puppy, his knees bent under him as he climbed. Down and up again a dozen times, he pushed feverishly forward. All day he had been seeing things. Cool lakes had danced on the horizon line before his tortured vision. Strange fancies had passed in and out of his mind. He wondered if this, too, were a delusion. How long that stiff ascent took him he never knew, but at last he reached the summit and crept over its cactus-covered shoulder. He looked into a valley dressed in its young spring garb. Of all deserts this is the loveliest when the early rains have given rebirth to the hope that stirs within its bosom once a year. But the tenderfoot saw nothing of its pathetic promise, of its fragile beauty so soon to be blasted. His sunken eyes swept the scene and found at first only a desert waste in which lay death. “I lose,” he said to himself out loud. With the words he gave up the long struggle and sank to the ground. For hours he had been exhausted to the limit of endurance, but the will to live had kept him going. Now the driving force within had run down. He would die where he lay. Another instant, and he was on his feet again eager, palpitant, tremulous. For plainly there had come to him the bleating of a calf. Moving to the left, he saw rising above the hill brow a thin curl of smoke. A dozen staggering steps brought him to the edge of a draw. There in the hollow below, almost within a stone’s throw, was a young woman bending over a fire. He tried to call, but his swollen tongue and dry throat refused the service. Instead, he began to run toward her. Beyond the wash was a dead cow. Not far from it lay a calf on its side, all four feet tied together. From the fire the young woman took a red-hot running iron and moved toward the little bleater. The crackling of a twig brought her around as a sudden tight rein does a highstrung horse. The man had emerged from the prickly pears and was close upon her. His steps dragged. The sag of his shoulders indicated extreme fatigue. The dark hollows beneath the eyes told of days of torment. The girl stood before him slender and straight. She was pale to the lips. Her breath came fast and ragged as if she had been running. Abruptly she shot her challenge at him. “Who are you?” “Water,” he gasped. One swift, searching look the girl gave him, then “Wait!” she ordered, and was off into the mesquit on the run. Three minutes later the tenderfoot heard her galloping through the brush. With a quick, tight rein she drew up, swung from the saddle expertly as a vaquero, and began to untie a canteen held by buckskin thongs to the side of the saddle. He drank long, draining the vessel to the last drop. From her saddle bags she brought two sandwiches wrapped in oiled paper. “You’re hungry, too, I expect,” she said, her eyes shining with tender pity. She observed that he did not wolf his food, voracious though he was. While he 19 20 ate she returned to the fire with the running iron and heaped live coals around the end of it. “You’ve had a pretty tough time of it,” she called across to him gently. “It hasn’t been exactly a picnic, but I’m all right now.” The girl liked the way he said it. Whatever else he was—and already faint doubts were beginning to stir in her—he was not a quitter. “You were about all in,” she said, watching him. “Just about one little kick left in me,” he smiled. “That’s what I thought.” She busied herself over the fire inspecting the iron. The man watched her curiously. What could it mean? A cow killed wantonly, a calf bawling with pain and fear, and this girl responsible for it. The tenderfoot could not down the suspicion stirring in his mind. He knew little of the cattle country. But he had read books and had spent a week in Mesa not entirely in vain. The dead cow with the little stain of red down its nose pointed surely to one thing. He was near enough to see a hole in the forehead just above the eyes. Instinctively his gaze passed to the rifle lying in the sand close to his hand. Her back was still turned to him. He leaned over, drew the gun to him, and threw out an empty shell from the barrel. At the click of the lever the girl swung around upon him. “What are you doing?” she demanded. He put the rifle down hurriedly. “Just seeing what make it is.” “And what make is it?” she flashed. He was trapped. “I hadn’t found out yet,” he stammered. “No, but you found out there was an empty shell in it,” she retorted quickly. Their eyes fastened. She was gray as ashes, but she did not flinch. By chance he had stumbled upon the crime of crimes in Cattleland, had caught a rustler redhanded at work. Looking into the fine face, nostrils delicately fashioned, eyes clear and deep, the thing was scarce credible of her. Why, she could not be a day more than twenty, and in every line of her was the look of pride, of good blood. “Yes, I happened to throw it out,” he apologized. But she would have no evasion, would not let his doubts sleep. There was superb courage in the scornful ferocity with which she retorted. “Happened! And I suppose you happened to notice that the brand on the cow is a Bar Double G, while that on the calf is different.” “No, I haven’t noticed that.” “Plenty of time to see it yet.” Then, with a swift blaze of feeling, “What’s the use of pretending? I know what you think.” “Then you know more than I do. My thoughts don’t go any farther than this, that you have saved my life and I’m grateful for it.” “I know better. You think I’m a rustler. But don’t say it. Don’t you dare say it.” 21 22 23 Brought up in an atmosphere of semi-barbaric traditions, silken-strong, with instincts unwarped by social pressure, she was what the sun and wind and freedom of Arizona had made her, a poetic creation far from commonplace. So he judged her, and in spite of the dastardly thing she had done he sensed an innate refinement strangely at variance with the circumstances. “All right. I won’t,” he answered, with a faint smile. “Now you’ve got to pay for your sandwiches by making yourself useful. I’m going to finish this job.” She said it with an edge of self-scorn. He guessed her furious with self-contempt. Under her directions he knelt on the calf so as to hold it steady while she plied the hot iron. The odor of burnt hair and flesh was already acrid in his nostrils. Upon the red flank F was written in raw, seared flesh. He judged that the brand she wanted was not yet complete. Probably the iron had got too cold to finish the work, and she had been forced to reheat it. The little hand that held the running iron was trembling. Looking up, the tenderfoot saw that she was white enough to faint. “I can’t do it. You’ll have to let me hold him while you blur the brand,” she told him. They changed places. She set her teeth to it and held the calf steady, but the brander noticed that she had to look away when the red-hot iron came near the flesh of the victim. “Blur the brand right out. Do it quick, please,” she urged. A sizzle of burning skin, a piteous wail from the tortured animal, an acrid pungent odor, and the thing was done. The girl got to her feet, quivering like an aspen. “Have you a knife?” she asked faintly. “Yes.” “Cut the rope.” The calf staggered to all fours, shook itself together, and went bawling to the dead mother. The girl drew a deep breath. “They say it does not hurt except while it is being done.” His bleak eyes met hers stonily. “And of course it will soon get used to doing without its mother. That is a mere detail.” A shudder went through her. The whole thing was incomprehensible to him. Why under heaven had she done it? How could one so sensitive have done a wanton cruel thing like this? Her reason he could not fathom. The facts that confronted him were that she had done it, and had meant to carry the crime through. Only detection had changed her purpose. She turned upon him, plainly sick of the whole business. “Let’s get away from here. Where’s your horse?” “I haven’t any. I started on foot and got lost.” 25 24